The air base where the Bulgarian Air Force’s F-16 fighter jets are intended to be based may not be ready in time, Defence Minister Todor Tagarev said in a report posted on the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence’s website.
Tagarev posted the report to mark three months since taking office as part of Bulgaria’s pro-Western government, noting that as soon as his team had taken office “we identified a number of unresolved issues”.
Before the current government took office in June 2023, the country was for nine months in the hands of caretaker governments appointed by President Roumen Radev.
“For example, the problem of equipping the armed forces with personnel is extremely serious, and it is particularly acute in our ground forces,” Tagarev said.
He said that the delay in preparing the Graf Ignatievo air base was “significant” and there was a danger that the air base would not be ready in time to receive an operate the F-16 aircraft.
The first of the eight F-16s that Bulgaria has ordered from the US is due to be delivered in 2025.
The ground forces had not modernised the Koren test site, although seven million leva was paid in advance to a contractor company for the planned but not completed work, after which the company declared bankruptcy “and the funds will probably be lost,” Tagarev said.
“The results of the industrial cooperation agreed in the package for the acquisition of the first 8 F-16 aircraft are too modest, and the contract for the second eight aircraft does not provide for such cooperation at all, which is why we are missing out on significant technological, industrial and social benefits for the Bulgarian economy and community,” he said.
The report said that the Military District Prosecutor’s Office had terminated the criminal proceedings against Air Force officials, and due to the statute of limitations, it was no longer possible to seek disciplinary and other responsibility for the death of the pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Valentin Terziev, and for the loss of the MiG-29 aircraft.
Terziev died when his MiG-29 crashed during a night training exercise at Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast.
Tagarev said that for a complex and effective solutions to these problems and to implement the measures foreseen in the government’s programme for the defence sector “we have focused our efforts in several priority directions, in which we can already report positive interim results”.
For example, in order to ensure the development of the defence capabilities of the Armed Forces, the government managed to secure more money for defence for 2023, namely 3.473 billion leva or 1.88 per cent of forecast GDP.
“We have committed to defence spending for 2024 and subsequent years to be no less than two per cent of GDP,” Tagarev said.
“We are rapidly continuing work on the projects in the main priority areas for the modernisation of the Armed Forces. In accordance with the changed security environment, we are revising the scope and priorities and by the end of November 2023 we will submit to the National Assembly a new draft of the Investment Expenditure Programme,” he said.
“We are continuing the implementation of the concluded contracts for the acquisition of the new F-16 combat aircraft, and our efforts are focused on building the infrastructure of its operational base.”
He said that for the preparation of the base, the ministry had 85 contracts for design, construction supervision, engineering and construction and assembly work, including 49 sites.
Tagarev said that on the acquisition of a multifunctional modular patrol vessel, a keel was also laid on the second vessel, the first being already on the water.
“We are working on concluding contracts for the acquisition of the necessary ammunition for the armament of the ships.”
Under the project to increase the mobility and protection of the personnel of the Special Operations Forces, 94 of all 98 contracted machines have been delivered “and we are working on the integration of their radio-communication equipment”.
On the modernization of the T-72 tanks, the acceptance tests continue and the delivery and installation of the radio communication equipment is pending.
“We have completed and opened a Defence and Cyber Defence Center at the Ministry of Defence.”
He said that a draft contract was being prepared for the acquisition of a total of 198 Stryker armoured vehicles and maintenance vehicles, for the army’s mechanised brigade.
“We are evaluating and ranking bids for new three-coordinate radars for the air and missile defence system, and the selection of a project contractor is pending.:
Tagarev said that work had been accelerated on renewing the ammunition of the Bulgarian Army, according to the contract concluded with the Sopot plant.
“We also accelerated the process of acquiring coastal anti-ship missile systems.”
He said that the personnel shortfall problem in the ground forces had been analysed, and working groups had been formed to review and implement the targeted measures.
Salaries of military and civilian employees had been increased by 10 per cent “with which we were able to partially compensate for increased inflation”.
“For 2024, we are betting on income indexation again.”
In the interests of Bulgaria’s collective defence in Nato and the EU’s common security and defence the ministry was updating the Strategic Action Plan for the Armed Forces in line with the Union’s defence plans.
“As the host country, we ensured the achievement of initial operational capabilities of the Nato Multinational Battlegroup at the brigade level,” Tagarev said.
“We are working on the construction of a multinational divisional headquarters on Bulgarian territory, which will be an element of the adapted structure of the forces of the Alliance,” he said.
Together with Romania, Bulgaria would build a Regional Component Command of the Special Forces.
“To strengthen the sustainability of the defence policy and raise the combat capability of the Armed Forces, we have developed and implemented a new concept of defence information policy aimed at providing full, timely, factual and comprehensible information to the public about all government activities in the interest of defence and national security.”
Tagarev said that this would contribute to countering Russian disinformation campaigns aimed at damaging the combat capability and motivation of the Bulgarian Army.
“We redoubled our efforts to provide all possible support to Ukraine in its fight against the Russian aggressor,” he said.
The government had approved a draft Memorandum of Cooperation between the Ministries of Defence of Bulgaria and Ukraine.
“We have decided to provide an additional package of military aid to Ukraine. About half of the total amount of this aid has been sent and the rest is in preparation for sending.”
The Defence Ministry was providing the necessary logistical support to the Interior Ministry in preparation for sending to Ukraine the 100 armoured personnel carriers from the reserves of the Interior Ministry in accordance with the decision of the National Assembly of July 2023.
“With all these actions, we have regained the respect of our allies and the world democratic community,” Tagarev said.
“All of the above gives us grounds to declare to the Bulgarian society that BULGARIA IS BACK ON THE MAP OF EUROPE,” he said [upper case as in the Bulgarian original].
(Photo: Lockheed Martin)
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